According to the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), former President Donald Trump’s new social network infringed on a free and open-source software license agreement by ripping off the decentralized social network Mastodon.
Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) has 30 days to comply with the licensing requirements before its access is revoked, requiring it to rebuild the platform or face legal action.
TMTG announced yesterday the formation of a special purpose acquisition business in order to develop a massive media empire. So far, its sole product is a social network named Truth Social, which looks to be a fork of Mastodon.
While anybody may freely borrow Mastodon’s code (and organizations like the right-wing social network Gab have already done so), they must still adhere to the Affero General Public License (or AGPLv3) that regulates that code, which includes providing their own source code to all users.
Truth Social does not comply with that license, instead referring to its service as “proprietary.” Its creators seem to have tried to remove references that would make the Mastodon link evident — at one point, classifying a “sighting” of the Mastodon logo as a problem — but included direct references to Mastodon in the site’s core HTML with obvious visual similarities.
The SFC, an organization that enforces free and open-source software licenses, has taken issue with TMTG’s approach. “The license purposefully treats everyone equally (even people we don’t like or agree with), but they must operate under the same rules of the copyleft licenses that apply to everyone else,” SFC policy fellow Bradley Kuhn stated in a blog post. “Today, we saw the Trump Media and Technology Group ignoring those important rules — which were designed for the social good.”
Truth Social has not yet been formally launched. Users could, however, get access to a test version of the site, where several of them set up spoof identities that filled the service with fraudulent corporate announcements and even fake Donald Trump tweets. Since then, the platform has been replaced with a waitlist. The SFC requires TMTG to provide all of these users with access to the Truth Social source code. “If they fail to do this within 30 days, their rights and permissions in the software are automatically and permanently terminated,” adds Kuhn.
If Truth Social does not provide the source code, the SFC may sue it for breaking the provisions of the license it utilized. Earlier this year, the organization filed a lawsuit against the electronics manufacturer Vizio for “repeated failures to fulfill even the basic requirements” of free software licensing.
Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko also said Wednesday that he intends to seek legal advice on the incident, but he did not specify what action he intends to take. “Compliance with our AGPLv3 license is very important to me as that is the sole basis upon which I and other developers are willing to give away years of work for free.”
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“I and my colleagues at Software Freedom Conservancy are experts at investigating non-compliance with copyleft license and enforcing those licenses once we confirm the violations. We will be following this issue very closely and insisting that Trump’s Group give the Corresponding Source to all who use the site.”
“Finally, it’s worth noting that we could find no evidence that someone illegally broke into the website. All the evidence available on the Internet (as of 17:00 US/Eastern on Friday 2021-10-22) indicates that the site was simply deployed live early as a test, and without proper configuration (such as pre-reserving some account names). Once discovered, people merely used the site legitimately to register accounts and use its features.”